Berkeley County students can access free internet from school bus ‘hot spots’

VIDEO: BCSD, Google partnership provides wifi access

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Berkeley County School District leaders are working with Google to give students better access to reliable internet, especially for families in St. Stephen where wifi connections aren’t readily available.

The district’s rolling study halls are being transformed into rolling hot spots for those communities.

“Now that the kids aren’t at school, the wifi is still on the bus,” Google spokesperson Lilyn Hester said. “So, now the wifi is being rolled out into the communities where the students are so they can do their homework.”

Berkeley County schools were the first in South Carolina to pilot the rolling study halls program in 2017, and they are now becoming an example for other districts in the state to model how technology can be used to keep students learning while their schools are closed.

“Our hope is to create some sort of a mesh network where, if you can strategically place the buses in certain areas, you’ll be able to light up various homes,” Hester said.

Google officials say it’s an ambitious strategy with plenty of challenges, and the services will likely be installed next week.

“Even during this crisis…students can have and live a normal life,” Hester said. “They can go online. They can do their homework. They can chat with their friends. They can chat with their teachers.”

New numbers show students and teachers in Berkeley County are using these resources.

Over the last month, over 71 percent of 1st through 12th graders have logged into Google, and BCSD is averaging about 18,000 participants in more than 3,800 Google meets a day.

“I definitely feel like we’ve been in a good position to be able to help our students and our families,” Chief Information and Technology Officer Diane Driggers said.

The next step of the project is to outfit the rolling study halls with solar power, so the buses don’t have to be running while providing internet access.

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